Instructor Alan Dumonceaux is Canada's first pastry chef at the Masters de la Boulangerie
Second chances are rare in life. So when NAIT Baking instructor Alan Dumonceaux (Cooking ’84, Baking ’87) was invited to Paris to once again compete against the best bakers in the world, he jumped at it.
In some ways, Dumonceaux knows the pressure he’ll face. In 2016, the pastry specialist was a member of Baking Team Canada, which qualified for the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, featuring the top bakers from around the globe. They placed 7th of 12 teams.
This time, however, he has only himself to rely upon. Dumonceaux is 1 of only 6 worldwide (and the first-ever Canadian) chosen to compete in February 2018 in the prestigious Masters de la Boulangerie (Masters of Baking) competition, held every 4 years in France. In many ways, it is the crème de la crème of baking contests. It’s also Dumonceaux’s last chance at a world title of this calibre. Masters competitors get only one shot – once they’ve been chosen, they can never compete in it again.
That’s why, from now until competition day, Dumonceaux will spend most of his free time in the NAIT kitchens, perfecting the techniques that have brought him this far. He knows that, in kitchens around the world, his competitors will be doing the same, and not taking their own second chances for granted. “We’ll all be working hard to become the world master,” says Dumonceaux.
No cake walk
Dumonceaux will compete in the Viennoiserie category. The category includes yeast-leavened pastries like croissants, pains au chocolat and brioches, as well as original creations made especially for the contest.
Another 6 bakers will compete in the bread category; 6 others will compete in the artistic category, in which they build a sculpture from bread.
The Masters and the team competition are held as part of Europain, a baking trade show in Paris that attracts about 65,000 visitors from 140 countries. The Masters competitors are drawn from the best of the team competition and its qualifying event, the Louis Lessafre Cup.
On competition day (Feb. 3, 4 or 5, depending on when his name is drawn), Dumonceaux will have 8 hours to make 11 different kinds of pastries.
Some, like the croissants and pains au chocolat, must be made to strict specifications in weight, size and ingredients. Others, including a pastry representing Canada and a “wow factor” pastry, will test his imagination and creativity as well as his technical skill.
Having competed in the same venue under similar circumstances during the team competition in 2016, Dumonceaux knows what to expect. But that doesn’t make the contest any less grueling, he says.
It’s made worse by the allergy he has developed to flour (a common occupational hazard among bakers), and hypoglycemia, which leaves him weak and shaky unless he eats snacks throughout the competition.
To keep his allergy symptoms at bay, he’ll wear a respirator mask during practices and for the 2-hour preparation session the night before the competition, when he’ll be weighing and portioning most of his flour.
There will also be challenges with ingredients and equipment: French butter and flour are much different than those in Canada. The climate affects how breads and pastries rise and bake, and he’ll be using unfamiliar ovens, mixers and other equipment.
“The hardest part is the mental and physical fatigue,” he says.
“You’re thinking about what’s in the proofer, what’s in the oven, taking something out of the fridge or freezer – you’re planning minutes and hours and in the end, your entire 8 hours is done by memory. It’s like being a musician at a concert – they’re not looking at the music and the lyrics, it’s all in their head.”
Practice makes perfect?
He and his coach, NAIT Baking instructor Clayton Folkers (Cooking ’79), will create, test and adjust recipes until they’re perfect. Then Dumonceaux will practice weekends and evenings around his teaching schedule and family commitments until he can virtually make them in his sleep.
After 16 years as an instructor, and years before that working in the bakeries of large grocery companies, Dumonceaux has experience on his side. He’s patient, methodical, well-organized, and, to a degree, philosophical about the outcome. “The reality is, just being invited to compete and doing it is a great accomplishment for anybody.”
While he expects to be as prepared as possible, during the competition itself, anything can happen.
“In the end, it’s who executes it best on that day. The reward is having your product come out of the oven the way you want it to and thinking, ‘I nailed it.’”